Our unnamed narrator, alone in the world and doomed to a life as a “companion” to a string of rich, older women, quickly allows herself to be swept off her feet by Maxim de Winter. However, her new life at the beautiful Manderley is haunted by the memory of the previous Mrs. de Winter – Rebecca – who died at sea a year earlier. With a little help from the housekeeper, Ms. Danvers, our narrator becomes obsessed with Rebecca and the seemingly endless adoration everyone has for her. But are things exactly as they seem?
The Book [5/5]:
I adored Rebecca. I listened to the audio and I found myself stealing every moment I could to listen to more. If someone were to tell me what it was about, I think my first reaction would be one of boredom. But de Maurier manages to put so much into every little action. Every appearance by Mrs. Danvers set me on edge. Every mention of how Rebecca used to do things made me anxious. I wanted to urge our narrator on, but I also wanted to see how the story would unfold. It was so fascinating to watch how Rebecca, this important character who is never actually there, shapes the story, leaving our narrator to simply cry, “I could fight the living but I could not fight the dead.”
du Maurier’s talent is evident in her descriptive writing. Instead of telling you about it, let me just show you a couple of examples:
“I know I cried that night, bitter youthful tears that could not come from me to-day. That kind of crying, deep into a pillow, does not happen after we are twenty-one. The throbbing head, the swollen eyes, the tight, contracted throat. And the wild anxiety in the morning to hide all traces from the world, sponging with cold water, dabbing eau-de-Cologne, the furtive dash of powder that is significant in itself. The panic, too, that one might cry again, the tears swelling without control, and a fatal trembling of the mouth lead one to disaster.” Chapter 6.
Tell me ladies, who can’t relate to that one?
And finally, because we are book lovers, her description of Manderley’s library:
“There was an old quiet smell about the room, as though the air in it was little changed, for all the sweet lilac scent and the roses brought to it throughout the early summer. Whatever air came to this room, whether form the garden or from the sea, would lose its first freshness, becoming part of the unchanging room itself, one with the books, musty and never read, one with the scrolled ceiling, the dark panelling, the heavy curtains.” Chapter 7.
Please ignore the “books…never read” statement when judging Ms. du Maurier’s writing please. I am normally not one for overly descriptive writing. I don’t care for great pastoral novels. Give me Hemingway, please. But I found the descriptions in Rebecca simply enchanting. And perhaps listening to it helped as well.
Thursday Next fans: I admit that I half expected 1000 Mrs. Danvers to show up at some point.
At Dominique from Coffee Stained Pages’ suggestion, I watched the 1940 Rebecca directed by Alfred Hitchcock and starring Lawrence Olivier as Maxim and Joan Fontaine as the narrator. I don’t think could have asked for more in an adaptation. It was the perfect amount of suspense, stellar acting, and creepiness. If you aren’t going to read the book, at least see the movie. It’s almost as good as the book.